What is the roadmap for technology investment in 2021 and beyond?

Technology spending through 2020 held strong, despite the pandemic – largely driven by the sudden shift to remote working. But what are the major trends that are going to shake up IT in 2021?

Few people could have predicted the events of last year. And few – if any – a traditional business continuity plans made contingencies for a global pandemic.

For the lucky few who had already started their journey to digital working, the lockdowns were easier to manage. For many organisations, there was a frantic flurry of activity to support the new ways of remote working. Some have suggested it was the equivalent of three years of transformation escalated rapidly into three months.

But what do the next twelve months have in store for the IT world? You’ve read our predictions for 2021, now let’s take a look at what industry analysts are saying.

The digital workplace will continue

Here at Grant McGregor, we’ve been working throughout the pandemic to support our customers – old and new – to manage the transition to new methods of digital working.

While the UK economy as a whole showed the largest dip since the 1709, shrinking by 9.9%(1), total IT spending over the same period fell by less than four percent. Some major projects were inevitably put on hold, but spend necessarily continued elsewhere – and in sometimes surprising ways.

While laptop and notebooks sales increased in the enterprise market, the desktop PC market received a boost from home users – as people upgraded their gaming machines throughout lockdown.

Now Gartner is predicting a rise in overall business IT spending through 2021. It suggests that the emergency activities of 2020 to support digital and remote working will now inspire further investment into these digital channels to optimise performance, drive efficiencies and ensure optimal cyber-security and governance solutions are in place.

What will be the technology gamechangers in 2021?

The CBI’s Tech Tracker survey(2) has identified an “innovation imperative”. It calls on business leaders to embed the agility of 2020 in their everyday working practices. Rather than sit back or allow fatigue to set in after the tumultuous events of the last twelve months, the CBI suggests that organisations must build on the agility and transformation that has taken place to secure an innovation culture that can deliver lasting competitive advantage.

We might not know what the future holds, but we should create agile, adaptable systems that enable us to respond quickly and flexibly to evolving events, it says. Cloud computing and burstable services are ideally suited to deliver this agility, so this is one key area where businesses should be looking to invest.

Business seems to be thinking on these lines already. Gartner has identified the technologies that UK leadership teams think will be the biggest “game changers” in 2021. The top of the list included artificial intelligence, data analytics, cloud, the digital workplace and robotic process automation (RPA).

The Gartner analysts add TX to this list. While most of us are still working on our CX strategies, Gartner says that the pandemic has illustrated that a TX – or “total experience”(3) – strategy is necessary.

Can AI help business?

The same Gartner report highlighted that only 53% of projects make it from artificial intelligence (AI) prototypes to production. It says CIOs and IT leaders find it hard to scale AI projects because they lack the tools to create and manage a production-grade AI pipeline.

This skills gap also continues to hold back projects, so skills development and training should be a significant part of IT budgets in 2021 and beyond. The furlough scheme in the UK has created a unique opportunity to reskill a workforce that analysts have been warning for many years needs new digital skills. The acceleration of digital working through the pandemic has thrown this skills gap into even sharper focus.

Gartner states: “The road to AI production means turning to AI engineering, a discipline focused on the governance and life cycle management of a wide range of operationalized AI and decision models, such as machine learning or knowledge graphs. A robust AI engineering strategy will facilitate the performance, scalability, interpretability and reliability of AI models while delivering the full value of AI investments.”

Developing the skills to create, develop, understand and work with these systems will be critical to long-term success. Meanwhile, in the short-term, AI is finding practical applications in “intelligent RPA”(4) – chatbots and adaptable digital workers that can optimise the completion of tasks and handling of customer enquiries. This is set to be a big area of investment through 2021, since it can be easily integrated with new digital infrastructures and help to drive cost efficiencies.

Where else will 2021’s tech spending be?

Gartner has also suggested that 2021 tech spending should be focused on creating a “cybersecurity mesh”. It sees such a mesh as enabling “anyone to access any digital asset securely, no matter where the asset or person is located. It decouples policy enforcement from policy decision making via a cloud delivery model and allows identity to become the security perimeter.”

Gartner Research vice president, Brian Burke says, “The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the multidecade process of turning the digital enterprise inside out. We’ve passed a tipping point — most organisational cyber assets are now outside the traditional physical and logical security perimeters. As ‘anywhere operations’ continues to evolve, the cybersecurity mesh will become the most practical approach to ensure secure access to, and use of, cloud-located applications and distributed data from uncontrolled devices.”

You can find out more about taking this “zero trust” approach to your own IT infrastructure and cyber security in our recent blog.

The good news is that, while 2020 might have seen a fast-moving, tactical and reactive approach to cyber security in many companies as they focused on continuing operations remotely, 2021 offers an opportunity to think about cyber security more strategically.

New digital ways of working require careful investment in cyber security – not just from a systems point of view, but also in terms of policy development and staff awareness training. With staff working remotely, it might be tempting to allow training to scale back training. In fact, it should be scaled up. Analysts have warned of a “home mindset” creeping into work-from home scenarios – with potentially dangerous implications for organisational cyber security and information governance.

For more information about this, please reach out to the Grant McGregor team. Our team can help you rethink your cyber security strategy for 2021.

 

Do you have questions about technology investment in 2021? Or perhaps you’d like to leave your own thoughts on this topic?

Pop on over to LinkedIn and comment on our share of this post. Our helpful team will monitor the feed and reply to your thoughts and questions until Monday 8th March 2021.

 

Sources:

1. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-56037123

2. https://www.cbi.org.uk/articles/tech-tracker-2020-the-innovation-imperative/

3. https://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2020-10-19-gartner-identifies-the-top-strategic-technology-trends-for-2021

4. https://www.cio.com/article/3537169/intelligent-automation-the-future-of-rpa.html

 

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